GSCE and A level results are just out and, for many, the piece of paper with their grades will be the most important they have ever held.
But with average grades on the up – it’s estimated that one in four gained an A or A* across some exam boards at A level in 2019 – it’s becoming harder to help your child stand out in the good grade crowd.
Arming your child with a flourishing CV is becoming increasingly important way to help them get ahead.
“Extra Curricular Personality” is now a thing – and summer is the perfect time to give theirs a boost.
One parent I spoke to recently told me that she’d decided dump her son’s 11+ tutor for the school holidays and spend the money on art classes at their local museum instead. “He built a portfolio, and totally aced the interview by the time autumn came around. He was one of only two from his primary school who got a place and even got a scholarship. They were all on a level in terms of passing the exam but I guess he just had the extra oomph.”
If you think that six weeks might be pushing it for a CV kick starter, what if we said you could add a brand new extra curricular line to your child’s CV in just seven nights?
That was the challenge set by Mark Warner, the activity holiday experts, when they invited me to visit their flagship Levante Beach Resort on Rhodes with my two sons Caleb, 15, and Bill, 11. It was actually our second visit to their luxe beachfront location. The first had seen me witness my boys switch from Spotify obsessed summer sliders to budding sailors – all in the space of one week. “We’re not DOING THINGS,” they’d warned on the flight out. “We’re especially not doing things WITH OTHER CHILDREN.”
On the flight home, however, I wrote this review: How To Have A Screen-Free Summer Holiday With Your Kids. They’d tried fifteen new activities between them, made some brilliant friends and came home well and truly bitten by the sailing bug.
But could we take this one step further and develop a holiday activity fling into something truly CV worthy?
Cue one term-torn family arriving at the resort in July. We were greeted with this view:
The thing that strikes you when you arrive at Levante is that it looks like a “normal” five-star resort. No obvious Lycra. No people doing hip flexors by the pool. No cheery signs saying, ‘You don’t have to be sporty to stay here, but it helps’.
What Levante has, however, is this brilliant all-inclusive underbelly which extends way beyond the rattan furniture-clad al fresco dining room. For the duration of your break, your children get access to expert British activity instructors and free tuition, and you don’t even have to worry about booking it. Everything from windsurfing, stand up paddle boarding and kayaking to football, table tennis and dance is all timetabled for your child at the start of the week by the childcare team. Activities are laid on for kids from four months to seventeen years, and they are grouped by age. This means tiny tots are with tiny tots and 11-year-olds are with other 11- year olds. But once your kids are old enough to sign themselves in and out of the clubs (10+), it’s hard to even call it childcare. It’s more like a ready-made group of mates trying new activities with top-notch equipment. Each group gets their own leader – the sort of late teen surfer-type who back home would be the most sought-after babysitter on the block – and there is just the right balance between being encouraged to give things a go and being left to their own devices. Minus the, erm, devices of course.
The way the activity programme is set up and run is definitely Mark Warner’s secret weapon in terms of sparking extra curricular curiosity.
“The mistake some parents make is to book their kids onto course after course. It ends up feeling like school,” says Resort Manager Rich Abbott. “Our tried and tested activity programme gives them just enough of a taste for each sport for them to work out what makes them tick, and then they have all the equipment and instructors on hand if they want to deep dive into a new skill and take a qualification home.”
All minus the pressure of parents but under the guidance of well-drilled young staff, correct?
“Yes, the main brief for all our British instructors is to pass on their enthusiasm,” adds Rich. “Many are not long out of school themselves and remember what it’s like to be a beginner. They get it. When younger guests first try an activity, we make sure it’s as fun as possible. They are learning but it doesn’t feel like it. We wouldn’t still be in business if kids only came to club on the first day and didn’t go back again. Our specialist tutors completely love what they do and it shows.”
It certainly worked for Caleb two years ago when he first tried sailing with his childcare leader Joe, an Exeter university maths under graduate. It felt more like he was hanging out and getting new experiences with a big brother. A big brother that he actually got along with that is.
Fast forward to 2019 and he was paired up with a 19-year-old sailing instructor from Glasgow, Jack, for his four-day Royal Yachting Association (RYA) course. Jack, epitomises the infectious passion for watersports in resort, and instantly dispelled my idea about there being a certain type of person who loves to sail. Jack learnt at a local club back home when he was 11 and saved up to buy his first boat (it was £200) when everyone else was getting a PlayStation. He’s a regular person who has an extraordinary skill. A skill that he plans to take with him all over the world.
Look, Mum, I can do this! Sailing is a brilliant addition to a teen's CV... and their confidence
It was my 15-year-old who was signed up to be on the water but, one perfect Greek island morning, Jack insisted on taking me out on a catamaran along the edge of the resort. He told me Caleb had loved his time on the water so much, he wanted me to see what all the fuss was about. 20 minutes in Jack’s company and I totally did. “Sailing has this exclusive image but actually it opens up so much,” he told me. “Yes, joining a sailing club might cost a bit more than the subs at your local football club. But get really good at football and where is it going to take you? The Premiership?! That’s what I’d call exclusive. Progress with your sailing and there are literally thousands of different types of opportunities to sail. There really are no limits.”
Caleb gained his Level 2 Basic Sailing Course in just four afternoons. Mark Warner pride themselves on their no-hassle approach to learning. Caleb boosted his CV in crystal clear waters of the Med in sunshine and 30 degrees. The equivalent course would have taken at least five or six weekends back in the UK, probably on a choppy grey lake somewhere an hour’s drive from our home. No hassle indeed.
The accredited sailing courses do cost extra but Caleb’s course was £70 – excellent value, especially bearing in mind the 1:3 teacher pupil ratio and the fact he could then take out a sail boat as many times as he wanted across the holiday. All the qualifications at Mark Warner resorts are accredited by the RYA, and there’s an array of options from Basic Skills to Seamanship and Start Racing. Likewise, there is RYA Youth Windsurfing qualifications or, for older teens, plenty of adult courses to choose from too. Mark Warner are very good at fast-tracking teens who are ready to take the adult level courses so they can build on levels year after year.
Courses aren’t for everyone, however, and Bill, 11, decided he didn’t want to be tied to set times to sail. He’d tried his hand at steering a Pico a few times back in 2017 with an instructor but wasn’t keen on fast-tracking to captaincy like his brother. (Picos, by the way, are mini 2-man boats and, according to Jack, “like the Vauxhall Corsa of the boat world” as they are “absolutely everywhere”.) Interestingly, however, in the light of Mark Warner’s peer-to-peer teaching ethos where older teens lead younger guests to great effect, it was a friend from Bill’s kids club, Will, also 11, who really piqued Bill’s interest in learning more. Will was on his third Mark Warner holiday and was super confident sailing a boat solo and taking holiday mates along for the ride. Parents are invited to a safety briefing at the start of their stay and permission slips are required to say which pieces of equipment you are confident your child can use without your supervision based on their experience. With the waterfront monitored throughout the day by lifeguards and a rescue boat on hand at all times if any guest – big or small – gets into trouble, it wasn’t unusual sight to see kids whizzing along the sparkling Greek beachfront at high speed without an adult in sight. It looked like a combination of scenes from Swallows and Amazons and Mama Mia.
Bill loved his time on the water with Will – Bill and Will had many Excellent Adventures – and it gave the pair an enormous sense of freedom that feels so rare in today’s cotton wool, risk-adverse world. Bill is also now dead set on getting his first level basic sailing certificate. A new line to add to the smallest Bond’s CV in 2020. Plus I saw a real boost in Bill's confidence over the course of the holiday. "I think this is the main takeaway we see for the kids who come to Levante," confirmed Resort Manager Rich. "I see a real change in confidence levels. They don't have to leave with a certificate to get a sense of achievement."
Billy, 11, in his happy place. Levante's A* beach shower
Back on dry land, there are seven stunning astro tennis courts at Levante's purpose built Tennis Centre where they offer Lawn Tennis Association approved coaching programmes with small group or 1-2-1 coaching. There is also a world class dive centre straddled between the main hotel and the beach. Indepth Dive Centre offers free scuba tasters for kids in the main pool most mornings and a brilliant range of PADI try dives and certificates. Ryan Nangia, who manages all the Mark Warner dive sites in Greece, qualified as an instructor in 1991, and now spends his winter months running PADI courses in UK schools who are keen to give their pupils the extra curricular edge. Again, like the sailing, Ryan says that youth PADI courses (10+) that can take multiple weekends and long mini bus trips to dive sites back home can be ticked off in a few hours and a couple of idyllic boat trips at Levante. He says: “Visibility is brilliant here, and there are hardly any currents to navigate. There are fantastic dive sites in the UK but it’s less of a child-friendly experience. Also, guests can tick off their theory pool sessions back in the UK and transfer to Greece to do their dives.”
It wasn’t just my children who got a CV boost this summer. I’m usually to be found in oversized sunglasses on a sunlounger using my son’s neglected Spotify account. But shortly before we left for our trip, I had a conversation with the head of my son’s new secondary school which made me re-think my activity aversion. Moving up to secondary school is a big new step, he told me, but it’s also the chance to “wear new clothes”. It’s not often in life you get the opportunity to leave your old self behind and try new things.
I loved this idea and decided to leave Sunlounger Me on the plane and give Mark Warner Me a go. First morning I went to yoga – my first class in five years – and was thrilled to set down my mat next to a wonderful 82-year-old grandpa who couldn’t touch his toes either. This was yoga but without all the Sweaty Betty leggings and matcha lattes. And I liked it.
I also tried: mountain biking (Levante has a fantastic Bike Centre); boxing, stand up paddling boarding, kayaking and went on a to-die-for snorkel safari. I even did a HIIT class (I had to Google what it was before I went) under a canopy by the edge of the ocean. Everything was punctuated – blissfully - with long periods back on the sunlounger. I have to say, however, my horizontal times felt so much sweeter after working up a sweat.
***Trip Highlight Klaxon*** I also did a Sunrise SUP: stand up paddling boarding as the sun rose over our Greek island home. It didn't even matter that I didn't stand up. Heavenly.
Victoria and Bill ready for their snorkel safari with the dive team
I fully appreciate as I post this it may feel a little late in the summer for a serious CV revamp, even though flights leave to resorts across the Med this weekend and deliver you back to the UK in plenty of time for back to school. You find a Last Minute Deals section of the Mark Warner website with offers that run right up until October half term. I highly recommend giving James a call in the Mark Warner Booking Office and he’ll talk you through the best options on resorts and rooms for your family across all their Med resorts (see contact details below).
It’s not too early to start planning a summer CV boost for next year either. 65% of the guests at Levante return year on year, and flights are already open for the 2020 school holidays. I have to say that having visited twice now, I may be tempted to try a different location if I were to join the stats of blissfully happy returnees. Mark Warner’s brand new Paleros Beach Resort on mainland Greece looks pretty perfect and is already getting consistent 5-star reviews on TripAdvisor.
But I know both my boys have a different idea. They are already Snapchatting friends they made on holiday and colluding on dates to go back to Levante next year. It does feel like we’ve hit on a magic family holiday formula. Mark Warner hits the sweet spot where Curriculum Vitae meets Carpe Diem. It’s going to be pretty hard to say no.
Sunset over the adult pool at Levante. A blissful haven for parents at any time of day – no inflatable unicorns required
Victoria was given a small press discount to travel to Levante Beach Resort. Click here for more information on the resort and other family activity holidays across Greece, Turkey, Corsica and Sardinia.
For new bookings, you can call the Mark Warner Booking Office on 0333 305 9795 or email [email protected].
The award scheme, now it’s 63rd year of operating, says: “There’s much more to life than exam results. If you’re applying for further education, uni, an apprenticeship or a job, remember your DofE Award can give you the edge.” Discover more by visiting dofe.org.
Youth residentials, team building weekends and family activity holidays. All minus the air fare. Visit pgl.co.uk for more information.
Learn to sail and take your new skill all over the world. Visit rya.org.uk to find your nearest sailing centre.
Boosting vital life skills and offering "a different kind of adventure". Visit sea-cadets.org for more information.
From 5-18 years, both organisations offer a range of experiences including camping and hiking. Visit www.girlguiding.org.uk or scouts.org.uk for details of your local groups.